October 12, 2021
Varicose veins are a form of Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI), and are estimated to affect up to 20 million people in the UK at some point during their lives. They occur when valves found inside every vein begin to fail, and the flow of blood back to the heart becomes impaired.
Although rare, varicose veins can lead to more serious complications when left undiagnosed and untreated. However, identifying varicose veins in the initial stage can be complex in certain cases, because some symptoms are not entirely visible and can be misdiagnosed as something else.
From the earliest to the most severe, in this article we will explore the main signs of varicose veins to look out for.
1. Poor circulation symptoms
Some of the earliest signs of vein insufficiency can be cold or numb feet and toes, or tingling in the feet and legs. This happens when the tissues and nerves do not receive enough oxygen due to the inadequate flow of blood.
2. "Heavy” legs
Do your legs constantly feel tired, even if you get your 8 hours of sleep and maintain an active and balanced lifestyle? It could be a sign of varicose veins, as the lack of proper blood flow through the legs, feet or ankles can cause a feeling of fatigue.
3. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, this condition causes an irresistible urge to move your legs, and most patients see an improvement after undergoing varicose vein treatment.
4. Swelling and cramps
This is one of the main indicators of varicose veins that is not immediately visible. When blood starts pooling in the veins due to poor circulation, a build-up of fluid sometimes referred to as ‘venous-oedema’ leads to swelling, predominantly in the feet or ankles.
Sudden cramps in the thigh or calf are another sign to look out for. Generally, they occur after a long walk or after standing for a long time. However, you may also experience this symptom at night, when your body has relaxed.
Some patients who experience these symptoms wear surgical compression stockings for varicose veins, which are known to improve circulation. They help to promote the flood of blood back to the heart by squeezing tightest at the ankle, and then applying steady pressure upwards.
5.Burning, throbbing, or itchy veins
When the pooled blood in the blocked veins leaks out into the vessels, it may lead to a lack of oxygen reaching the tissue in the surrounding area. This results in a constant itching, and sometimes even a painful burning or throbbing sensation, with the skin may becoming dry, red or inflamed, and can feel warm to the touch. This condition is frequently mistaken for skin dryness and cannot be treated by over-the-counter skin products.
6. Broken or discoloured skin
Also a result of poor oxygenation, the skin around varicose veins can become thinner and may acquire a shiny appearance. It is not uncommon for the skin to also become harder and drier, sometimes to the point of breaking of discolouring.
7. Venous ulcers
70% of people suffering from venous ulcers also have varicose veins. These ulcers are caused by a prolonged build-up of fluid in the tissue surrounding the swollen veins, and tend to initially appear red or inflamed. But when the fluid starts to leak, and the skin at the surface begins to die, it becomes very difficult to prevent the wound from reopening or avoid the risk of infection.
This is among the most serious symptoms. It can lead to severe complications such as painful swelling and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside the body. The damaged area swells up, can feel warm, and the skin surrounding it may also become red.
This can be potentially life-threatening, as some blood clots may travel to your lungs through the bloodstream and cause a pulmonary embolism. If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, or cough up blood, you should immediately seek help.
9. May-Thurner Syndrome
This condition causes the left iliac vein in the pelvis to narrow due to pressure from the right iliac artery. The left iliac vein carries blood back to the heart, and the right iliac artery functions as the main route for blood to reach the legs. Besides swelling, the condition can develop into DVT. May-Thurner Syndrome is more common in women and tends to occur more frequently during pregnancy.
10. When should I worry about varicose veins?
Even though varicose veins are perfectly treatable in most cases, especially those early in the disease cycle, they should be taken seriously as soon as the first signs make themselves known. Contrary to popular belief, vein treatment can be simple, painless and fast. Multiple minimally-invasive alternatives to vein removal surgery exist, such as radiofrequency ablation and sclerotherapy, and offer lasting relief with only minor discomfort.
Have you experienced any of the symptoms we’ve just discussed? The earlier you seek help, the better the outcome. You can receive an initial consultation by phone or live chat with a UK Vein Clinic specialist, who can then arrange your visit to our London clinic located in Harley Street only if necessary.
Varicose vein treatment is no longer available on the NHS, but we offer the best value prices in the UK, and you can even spread payments over time.
Take our two-minute diagnostic test to see if you could benefit from varicose vein treatment.
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